Having good eyebrows these days is a sign that you're winning at life. From magazines, to beauty blogs, to YouTube tutorials, to just about every polished face you see, the power of the brow is everywhere. There is so much pressure to have the perfect eyebrows, a pressure that definitely wasn't there when I was in my teens and early 20s. Back in the day, you either completely left them alone or plucked them into barely-there existence and then drew them back with a pencil. Yep, back then, it wasn't about having our eyebrows on fleek so much as it was about caking your lips with brown lipstick and holding your middle part back with double baby barrettes.
I've never been great at brows, and honestly, I'm not really sure what even makes a good brow. If you asked me, I'd probably say that I know a good brow when I see it. And having good brows is totally subjective. It definitely depends on the wearer's face. And your personal preferences. And also their raw brow materials. Look, we don't all have Cara Delevigne brows. Or Cara Delevigne anything else, for that matter, but that's beside the point. I do know that as much as I want to have those thick and beautiful arches above my eyes, my genetics were a bit stingy with the eyebrow hairs. Now, it's up to me to supplement those babies. But supplementing the right way takes serious skill. Sure, I can watch all those tutorials and buy all the products, but sometimes I still can't tell if I'm on fleek or on just, well, eek in my execution.
My brow game struggles from time to time (read: everyday). I'm never sure if I've underdone or overdone my brows. I swear that I can identify and appreciate good brows on other people, but when I'm doing my own, I lose all sense of brow bearings. Sometimes I'll be like, "NAILED IT!" and my husband will be like, "why do your brows look angry?" So, just for fun, and also to work out my weird brow complex, I tried creating different levels of eyebrow intensity on my face. After each brow application, I took the look out on the streets to determine what level suited me and which look I liked the best.
Level 1: Natural
Like I said before, my brows are not thick. However, I've always been OK with, and even slightly fond of, my natural arch. But only after a careful and strategic plucking, which I'm only half the time successful at doing. I've never once gone to a threader or brow bar to offer the task up to a professional, mainly because I love to pluck my own eyebrows. It's weirdly soothing to me. But sometimes my plucking hand goes '90s rogue, and I end up an Asian Geri Halliwell circa 1994. Thankfully, I was conservative in my last pluck session, so my brow hair in its natural state, although sparse and raggedly wispy, was not too thin.
I tried to groom my brows with a brow comb as best I could, and left the house brow au naturale. I liked the feeling of not wearing too much makeup, so I was cool with this look. But I will admit that after seeing myself in a window reflection, I was struck by how different I looked, and felt weirdly aware that I looked like I didn't have eyebrows on my face. It was sort of like my eyes and the rest of my face were overpowering the overall look, and I needed more brow to balance it all out. It was like a house without a roof; a picture without a frame; a girl without a dream. OK, not really, but it did look off to me. I also sort of felt like not having eyebrows made me look a bit like I didn't take the time to get ready and that I was just on a quick run to the store. Of course, it didn't really didn't matter what my brows looked like to others, but in that moment, I realized how all this attention (even if just my own) to dumb eyebrows had affected my outlook on my own grooming.
Level 2: Filling In
One thing no one warned me about was that in addition to gray hair and increased upper lip melasma (the appearance of grey-brown patches on the face, according to the American Academy of Dermatology), aging, for me, has also meant losing eyebrow hair. I refused to believe it at first, but comparing current photos to those of me in my 20s, it's clear that my brow hairs are thinning at a steady rate. Great! Losing hair on my head and brows while gaining a dark, Clark Gable-skin mustache? Aging: 5, Andrea: 0.
But who cares; it's just looks, right? Well yes, that's true, but also I wouldn't mind to hold on to my eyebrows for as long as possible. So on day two, armed with the knowledge that I didn't love my bare brow look, I went back for a little more color. I simply applied some brow powder with a brush to fill in the holes, and just followed the shape of my brow — only touching areas where brow hair abounded (sprouted) — until it looked filled in. I brushed through my brow hair, lightly dabbed on some dark brown color and headed out again.
Overall, I liked this look. It was minimalist and felt fresh. I felt like my brows said, "I'm not getting involved in the browhaha, but I'm no schlep either."
Level 3: Bring On The Pencil
I didn't discover the magic of an eyebrow pencil until much too late in life. I spent my teen years studying and stressing about SATs to my eyebrows' neglect. My college brow life was all about the plucking. And after kids, up until a few years ago, it was a quick wham-bam-I'm-lucky-I-even-made-it-into-the-shower type of life. Needless to say, it's been quite a while since I focused solely on me — and even longer since I paid careful time and attention to my eyebrows.
But then I laid eyes on an eyebrow pencil. *cue Angelic choir music*
I started sparingly using an eyebrow pencil a few years back, and I was introduced to the world of being able to create a brow that looked natural enough while also add shape and color. Once that happened, I realized I'd been living a lie and could never go back to the way things were before. I could, however, use the eyebrow pencil to help make my brows look better than they ever had.
So for level three of my eyebrow experiment, I added my beloved eyebrow pencil to the mix and shaped my brows. With the help of few short strokes of the pencil, I created a more squarish, angled brow with a more pronounced arch to complement my round face shape. I stayed light on the pencil, using it mostly to shape and outline the brow. This pencil addition had me feeling right, and I bopped out of the house with a pep in my step to attend a meeting that afternoon.
Regardless of the fact that the 90-percent humidity here in Hong Kong had left my hair seeing better days, I felt polished. With just that little brow oomph, I had my swerve on.
Level 4: Getting Intense
I was meeting a girlfriend for dinner on this night, and because I wanted to try out a more dramatic, evening look, and partly for this experiment, I ramped up my brow by adding more color and definition. I went heavier with the eyebrow pencil, filling in more of my brow with short heavy strokes. I added more angle to my brow shape and thickened up the inner ends a bit more. I quite liked the more dramatic brows, but I definitely felt very made up. I had to add more foundation coverage, more eyeliner, and a poppin' lipstick to feel like the rest of my face matched my brows.
The attention to brow did not go unnoticed. In fact, the first thing my friend said to me was, "Hey, your brows are looking good!" I felt flattered, but I was also aware that my brows were so pronounced that it would be hard not to notice them, in either a good or a bad way.
Level 5: No.
After a delicious meal and a few drinks, I was home staring at myself in the mirror. What would leveling up from here look like?, I thought to myself as I marveled at what now looked like cartoonishly drawn eyebrows above my eyes. I realized the commitment to increasingly strong eyebrows takes serious skill and a trained eye to get it right. I also realized that this just isn't the look for me. Who really knows what makes a good brow? You just know it when you see it. You also know it when you see a bad one. But for the sake of the experiment, I shrugged my shoulders and got my eyebrow pencil out again.
I went hard on my brows — creating width and angles and even length that my face had never seen before. I used all the tools: an eyebrow brush, powder, a pencil, gel to hold the look in place — everyone got in on the party. And I was left feeling like I looked like an evil Disney stepmother, or a Halloween face painting project gone wrong. I didn't feel stylish, on fleek, or even like I looked like myself. In all honesty, it kind of felt a little nightmarish.
My brows looked so dramatic that I felt like I had to make that face (pictured above) permanently. And I did that to my husband and kids until they flat out got mad and asked me to stop.
Did I Find The Perfect Brow For My Face?
Was I able to live my life at every eyebrow intensity? Of course. This was mostly just a silly, fun experiment I did to play around with different looks. But, I did feel most comfortable wearing the third intensity level. I felt like I looked a little more polished and dressed up than the first two, but wasn't making my face the brow show like the last two levels. The third level of eyebrow intensity allowed me to play a little bit outside my natural eyebrows for a more distinct look with minimal brow grooming knowledge. Thus, less room for noticeable error. Give me too much to do, too many products or brow expectations to try, and I'm riddled with anxiety. And I refuse to feel anxiety over my brows. Even if I do agree with the rest of the modern world that perfect brows are life, I'm OK not having them.
Will we always think that this thick, perfectly arched/shaped brow as the goal? Probably just as much as we thought the thin drawn on brow was everything 20 years ago. This experiment has shown me that trends are fleeting. Sure, eyebrows are everything right now, but you know what's next? Yeah, neither do I.